SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A joint committee of state lawmakers met virtually Thursday to discuss issues facing Black entrepreneurs and small business owners. They also highlighted the need for economic access and equity for opportunities to succeed.
The Legislative Black Caucus says the General Assembly must take a deep look at discrimination Black business owners face and create an equal playing field.
Reviewing the data
The Chicago Urban League Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation reports African Americans make up 13% of the country’s population, but only 9% of businesses and less than half a percent of all business revenue. Director Jason Johnson noted that only 4% of Black businesses have employees, compared to 22% of white firms.
“Small businesses make up 64% of the nation’s jobs,” Johnson explained. “Only 4% of Black small businesses have full-time employees and Black firms are more likely to hire Black people. This explains the unemployment issues in the Black community across the country.”
That’s why several advocacy groups are trying to help Black business owners excel so they can hire more employees and curb unemployment in low-income communities. They also emphasized the COVID-19 pandemic only enhanced longstanding issues for many struggling to get by.
“Instead of just focusing on low wage retail and businesses in challenging areas, we need to have our opportunity lanes opened up so that Black-owned businesses can fully participate in the new economy,” said Bruce Montgomery, Founder of the Entrepreneur Success Program.
Montgomery has helped entrepreneurs for over 35 years. He feels Black Illinoisans still haven’t received their fair share of return in taxpayer funds. He says the state’s “business as usual” mindset won’t work for Black business owners any longer.
“If Black businesses are not supported as they need to be supported in those areas, we’ll find ourselves still struggling to find economic opportunity and economic equity in the state of Illinois,” Montgomery added.
Recovering from pandemic closures
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity also provided an update on the first round of business interruption grants. Acting Assistant Director Michael Negron said the department distributed $49 million to 2,800 businesses across 400 communities. Negron highlighted that $25 million was allocated for disproportionately impacted areas. Notably, $16.34 million went to business owners in districts of Black Caucus members. However, only 14% of the grants went to Black-owned businesses.
Negron explained DCEO’s African American Business Development Manager hosted 35 events across the state to help those interested in applying. However, several lawmakers note the department must do better with outreach for prospective grant recipients. Some districts had no business owners receive grants in the first round.
“We want to make sure we’re reaching the communities we intend on reaching with these grants,” Negron said. “It’s clear that we need to be more effective and more focused in our efforts in outreach.”
Lawmakers and advocates also feel the state should have innovation incubator centers in more communities. Currently, those facilities are only located in downtown Chicago and college towns.